Money — and the quest to make as much of it as possible — can lead college athletic conferences to do some off-the-wall things. And the more zeroes on the check, the more bonkers the ideas can get and the more palatable they become to those conferences.
So when you’re talking annual eight-figure revenue distribution like you are with the Power 5 conferences, wackiness has a way of rearing its head. For the Pac-12, that might mean waking up on the West Coast with the organically vegan-fed free-range chickens to watch your favorite football team.
College Football Talk reported, and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott admitted, this past week that the conference has discussed with Fox offering a couple of its games in the noon time slot.
Fox is trying to make the nooner — which evokes memories of the Raycom ACC Game of the Week — its marquee time slot, planting its flag there like CBS has for the 3:30 p.m. game and ESPN/ABC has with the prime-time game. And, considering the Big 12 has a deal with Fox, that nooner could become very important.
But it’s one thing for the Big 12 to start a game in the Central Time Zone at 11 a.m. Fans get up a little earlier. They add french toast casserole to the tailgating menu and serve mimosas instead of rolling out the kegs. (Well … along with rolling out the kegs.)
But noon Eastern in California? That’s 9 a.m. local time. Forget football for brunch, that’s kickoffs with your corn flakes.
Still, it’s something Pac-12 coaches, at least publicly, are warming up to. Better that, they say, than what has become the hashtag #Pac12AfterDark — games that don’t start until 9 or 10 p.m. Eastern and finish up well after many in that time zone have drifted to sleep.
Pigskins and bacon might appease the TV gods who base their schedules on East Coast viewing habits, but what does that do to the fans in those Pac-12 towns? You know, the ones actually buying tickets to sit in the stands?
The dollar signs linked to TV deals are getting bigger than the ones linked to season ticket sales, and athletic programs’ strategies are following suit.
Big Ten teams earned about $54 million each last year in revenue distribution (to compare, that would have been the 58th-largest athletic budget in the 2016-17 season, according to USA Today’s database). SEC teams earned a little more than $43 million each. Big 12 teams took in around $34 million (and that doesn’t count Tier 3 broadcasting rights, like West Virginia’s deal with IMG, which adds millions more).
The Pac-12 took in less than $30 million. And while that number is nothing to sneeze at for most of us, Big Ten and SEC teams are looking at it and saying “gesundheit” to each other all over the place.
The Pac-12 wants a regular seat at the College Football Playoff table, but the conference has put a team in that foursome just twice since the CFP began in 2014. Meanwhile, the SEC has put at least one team there every year.
So the Pac-12 needs a boost in revenue, and seems to hope that could come with a boost in visibility. And more consumers are watching football games at noon than they are midnight.
So if Fox’s college football TV ratings at noon jump, it can gain ad revenue from the increase. And if the Pac-12 can claim any credit for that jump, that could mean a sweeter pot for TV revenue down the line.
Chasing TV money is nothing new in college athletics. Remember when college football was dedicated to Saturdays? Then came Thursdays. Then Fridays, going head-to-head with the prep football games that are the sport’s lifeblood. Shoot, the Mid-American Conference sprinkles its brand of #MACtion throughout the week, putting games on every night except the Sundays and Mondays that are the NFL’s domain.
Is it crazy? Is it too much? Sure, you can think that, but when athletic programs pick up $40- and $50-million-plus from their conferences, you can’t really blame them. After all, those indoor waterfalls and state-of-the-art sleep pods don’t build themselves.
So get ready to watch the sun rise at the tailgate lot. Clear your Saturdays … and your Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays. If it helps the bottom line, then it’ll probably happen.
So they might be rising with the organically vegan-fed free-range chickens out in Pac-12 land, but at least the omelettes at the tailgates will be delicious.